Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sinema: This Week's Dining Review

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 4:23 PM

Seaweed appetizer at Sinema
In this week's issue of the Scene, restaurant critic Carrington Fox visits Sinema, the high-profile dining spot in the former Melrose Theater, under the direction of marquee chef Dale Levitski.

The restaurant's swanky Art Decor glamour is unique, whether you dine downstairs (with a view of Levitski and his team at work in the open kitchen) or snack upstairs in the lounge with clever cocktails.

From the valet drop-off at the vintage marquee to the grand staircase rising from lobby to mezzanine, a night at Sinema is an opulent affair, positively baroque in its see-and-be-seen splendor. It's hard to think of a local venue that places such a premium on its decor, which includes countless groupings of plush furniture, black-and-white portraits of Hollywood stars, and a constellation of elegant low lighting reflected off smoky gold mirror ceiling tiles.

Fox says The stars of the menu were the appetizers, like the cryptically named Seaweed, which "combined elements of earth and ocean with a dramatic flourish":

The server delivered a deep bowl bearing a colorful and delicate arrangement of beef carpaccio, lump crab, shaved lotus wheels, shiitake mushrooms and herbs, then proceeded to tip a teapot of golden seaweed broth over the composition. It yielded a soup that was simultaneously warm and cool, crisp and comforting, marine and meadow.

Read on to hear Fox's thoughts on the entries, the bar bites, and a pretty distinctive night on the town.

Sinema, at 2600 Franklin Pike (615-942-7746) serves dinner Monday through Saturday, with the lounge opening at 4:30 p.m. Sunday brunch will start this fall.

Bites folks: Anybody been to Sinema? Want to share experiences?

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Corsair's Darek Bell Releases Second Book, Fire Water: Experimental Smoked Malts and Whiskeys

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 8:34 AM

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Whenever I get the chance to sit down and speak with Darek Bell, the owner/distiller of Nashville's Corsair Distillery, I am impressed with his passion and creativity toward his craft. In the midst of a global bourbon boom, Bell and Corsair have set their sails (and sales) in a very different direction. Not that they don't make very good whiskey, but they are determined to push the envelope of craft distilling and advise anyone else entering the market to avoid the trap of chasing the "me-too" temptation of trying to replicate the perfectly fine bourbons that have been coming out of Kentucky for generations.

Instead, Corsair prefers to experiment with novel grains in their mash bills and innovative finishing techniques, including experimental smoking of malts and grains and adding hops to their whiskeys. Bell is also more than willing to share the exact details and results of his experiments and has released a follow-up to his first book with Fire Water: Experimental Smoked Malts and Whiskeys. While the previous work, Alt Whiskeys, sought to share recipes for some admittedly wacky fermented and distilled grain products like triticale and sorghum, Fire Water sets out to do no less than establish an entirely new category of spirits, American smoked whiskey.

Bell experimented with more than 80 different sources of smoke to flavor his whiskeys. Traditional wood sources like pecan and mesquite were augmented with herbs, roots, barks and old barrel staves to create the smoke to add character to the spirits. Like any good scientist, Bell maintained a control recipe for his base spirit and then altered and measured the effects of variables such as different malting techniques, smoke sources and time of exposure to the smoke. Corsair's multiple award-winning Triple Smoke Whiskey should be proof enough that he knows what he is doing, but a course of study at the distilling academy at Bruichladdich in Islay, Scotland, also establishes some pretty serious bona fides.

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Great Food, Pastries, Dancing and Fun at the Nashville Greek Festival

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 7:20 AM

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It’s time for a little real talk. I’ve run out of ledes for posts about festivals. “Mark your calendar! Get out your stretchy pants! It’s time once again!” I can only write these phrases so many times. And September hasn’t even started yet, the month when there are many, many festivals worth festing. Next weekend, it’s time once again for the Nashville Greek Festival. Next week's installment, Sept. 5-7, is the festival’s 27th glendi (celebration), and as I’ve mentioned previously, it's one of my favorites. It has grown quite a bit just in the past decade I’ve been attending, and they’ve done a great job of making it a better event.

For example, back in the day, if you wanted pastries, you had to take your chance that your favorites wouldn't sell out on Friday before you could make it to the festival on Saturday or Sunday. Now you can preorder your favorite pastries. And they now offer off-site parking with shuttle service for folks who don’t want to deal with climbing the hill.

And though most kids enjoy the live entertainment and dancing, the festival has grown to include a petting zoo, bounce houses and other activities (not included with admission) as well as use of the church’s playground. Unfortunately, there is one casualty of the years; it doesn't appear that there will be a return of my favorite item from the menus of years past, the saganaki, but there’s still plenty of tiropita, spanakopita, dolmas, and other Greek specialties available to nosh on. Be sure you get the loukoumades (the honey-drenched doughnut balls), which is my favorite of all the desserts and not available for preorder (they're made fresh on-site).

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Prost! Tennessee Volksfest Coming Up at New Venue, Nashville Farmers' Market

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 12:44 PM

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  • tennesseevolksfest.com
Break out the lederhosen and the dirndls and get ready for this year’s Tennessee Volksfest, held this year Sept. 13-14 at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. This all-ages (family-friendly!) event features all good things German, including beer, food, entertainment, kids’ activities and cars. Here are the details.

First, the beer at the biergarten: from Spaten brewery, Lager and Oktoberfest; from Franziskaner, Hefe-Weissbier and Dunkel Weiss; from Krombacher, Pilsner and Dark Pilsner; from Hofbräu HB, Original Dunkel, Weizen, and Oktoberfest; plus ceremonial cask beers each day. Next, the food: It's being prepared by Riffs Fine Street Food and includes pretzels, spaetzle, schnitzels, wursts, krauts and more.

Entertainment will be provided by two roving bands of Bavarian-style musicians, and the kids’ zone will include a bouncy house and an alpine slide. For those who feel torn between their love of the pigskin and the pork schniztel, there will be football televised on both days. There will also be VW cars to look at, both new and old. The festival is hosting a vintage V-Dub show — aside from the doughnut spaetzle, this is what I am most excited about. (The fest is also giving away a lease on a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta; visit the website for more information.)

Here’s the deal. Admission to the festival is free, but food and drink is not. There’s a special deal for people who purchase a reusable beer stein and tokens in advance, but you can also purchase on-site (the half-liter stein costs $10 and comes with your first beer; tokens are $5 each).

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Gulch Beer Fest Kicks Off This Saturday

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 7:08 AM

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Do you know what "Little Division" is? For Nashville beer fans, it may very well be the most important strip of asphalt in town, stretching just a block from Eighth Avenue at Jackalope Brewery up toward Yazoo. On any given Thursday or Friday afternoon, Little Division is packed with parked cars that have delivered their occupants to the tasting rooms at either (or both) of those popular breweries.

This Saturday, Aug. 30, from 1 to 6 p.m., Little Division will claim its status as the center of the Music City beer universe as the Gulch Beer Fest features more than 40 craft brews plus food trucks and various arts and craft vendors. (Clearly the organizers are not college football fans, since that's also prime opening weekend television viewing time — but that's why we have DVRs.)

VIP tickets that include indoor access have already sold out, but there are still general admission tix available for $50 plus a small service charge. So take a break from football and head on down to Little Division for an afternoon of beer, food and fun.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bites Names a Winner to Help Judge the Nashville Street Food Awards

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 12:25 PM

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The powers that be over at random.org have chosen the winner for a spot on the judges' panel for the Nashville Street Food Awards: commenter No. 10, Barbara Please! Barbara, please send me an email at lesley [at] lesleyeats.com with your contact information so I can forward it to the judging panel coordinator. And be sure to clear your calendar and choose your finest stretchy pants for this Saturday around lunch time.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. Even if you didn't win a spot on the judges' panel, you should still come out to the festival (and maybe watch some of the judging). But note some important changes from the past awards.

First, the event will be at the Nashville Farmers' Market instead of Centennial Park. So, in addition to all the food truck fun — which includes activities for the kids, craft beers, and live entertainment from The Cremonas and Deep Fried Five (and more) — you can also shop for food, plants, and the other great items available every Saturday at the market. Second, this event will be even bigger than last year. Nashville's food truck community is growing stronger all the time and there are eight new trucks participating this year for a total of 35 trucks. That's a huge selection of food truck fare to choose from. I suggest getting there early with a group of likeminded friends who like to share and spend the day grazing.

Third Annual Nashville Street Food Awards
Saturday, Aug. 30
11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Nashville Farmers' Market (north end)
900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.
Free admission

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Paula Deen Talks Sweetbreads, Butter and Why She and Dolly Should Totally Be Friends

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 8:51 AM

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I don’t cook, so I don’t really know much about Paula Deen, other than that she really likes butter, and that her pants fell down on live TV one time. So, when presented with the opportunity to interview her for her Aug. 27 appearance at TPAC, I thought, hey, I just might learn something!

When corresponding with her people, they initially requested an email interview, which I politely declined, because those are no fun. As Deen’s people are clearly accustomed to putting out fires that happen outside the kitchen, they are now on in full fire prevention mode. They acquiesced to a phoner if I presented the questions in advance. Now, that's not so out-of-the-ordinary with interviews; I understand a subject wanting to know what ground will be covered so he or she is adequately prepared, but it was the following caveat that made me a little wary:

"We do kindly request that you keep all questions focused on Paula Deen Live! and the Paula Deen Network — nothing about the past."

This incited a flashback to my senior year in high school, when the principal asked to see my graduation speech a week before the ceremony.

“If you even stray one word from this speech,” she warned me, looking me dead in the eye, “I will cut the microphone. No funny business, Abby.”

I had recently been nearly arrested for underage drinking in one of Peoria’s fine public parks and was at risk of losing a college scholarship, so I wasn’t about to rock the boat. But nearly 20 years later, I still bristle when someone tells me I can’t talk about something. That being said, I must still fear the wrath of my high school principal — or maybe Paula Deen's people — because I decided not to talk about Anthony Bourdain, diabetes or Southern plantation-style weddings. Besides, there is plenty of other stuff to chat about with the Queen of Butter, right?

Paula called me from her home in Savannah, and throughout our brief convo, I did manage to learn something quite scandalous without having to approach any of the aforementioned subjects. Nashville, Paula Deen has NEVER tried hot chicken. Not only that, it didn't even sound like she'd heard of it. Friends, we cannot let this slide. When she's in town, can somebody please stage a hot chickenvention?

We also chatted about her new digital network that's launching this fall, how she and Dolly should be friends, why potatoes are awesome, and the time she thought sweetbreads were cinnamon rolls, after the jump.

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Porta Via Introduces New Salads, Pastas and Pizzas

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 7:52 AM

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  • @eatatportovia
Even though it’s still summer — and still very hot — it’s now the time of year when many restaurants begin to change up their menus in response to the availability of produce. And sometimes restaurants make adjustments to accommodate customer preferences or give the chefs a chance to stretch their legs a bit.

Porta Via has recently added a number of new items, including salads, entrées and pizzas. I stopped by the West Nashville location last week to check them out. New salads include an antipasto salad featuring salami and prosciutto, a vegetarian portobello salad that can easily be made dairy-free without the goat cheese, and a chopped kale salad that can be vegetarian if ordered without the bacon. On the entrée menu, there’s a new pappardelle clam dish that features house-made noodles made with sriracha. If clams aren’t your thing, you can order the pappardelle with any of the other sauces (or just butter or olive oil). Among the new pizzas is a vegetarian version that features vegetables and smoked gouda.

I tried several of the new menu items during my visit. I love pizza, so I ordered the vegetarian pizza on the gluten-free crust. I’m not on a GF diet, but their gluten-free crust — made from a combination of potato, fava bean, and garbanzo bean flours — is just so good. The vegetables were great (and didn’t make the pizza soggy), but the addition of the gouda was the best part. I also sampled some of the pappardelle (minus clams) with just a little butter and cheese, and they were really good, though I think they need something with a bit more kick than just butter and cheese to make them great (clams, perhaps).

But the item I liked best — which really surprised me — was the kale salad. The kale in the salad was not pulverized, but chopped into just-less-than-bite-size pieces and massaged to remove any bitterness. And it must be made from baby kale or some magic kale I've not tried before, because the mild taste and light texture (though not its deep-green appearance) more resembled a leafy green lettuce.

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Moldovan Wines Are Bargain European Finds

Posted By on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 6:50 AM

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Of course you're celebrating Moldovan Independence today, right? I rarely even thought of the Eastern European country until Will Motley at Woodland Wine Merchant introduced me to some of the great inexpensive wines produced in the small country tucked between Romania and Ukraine. Given Russian boycotting of Moldovan wines, the country is looking to accelerate exports to the United States, and we can definitely be the beneficiaries.

After checking out some of the facts, it shouldn't be surprising that viniculture in Moldova is a big deal. The country actually has the densest concentration of vineyard lands in the world, with over 7 percent of all arable land planted with grapes. The indigenous varietals include Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Neagra, Rara Neagra, Traminer and Saperavi, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc also grow well in the rolling hills and centuries-old vineyards.

Almost 25 percent of the country’s workforce is employed by the wine industry in one form or another, and Moldova’s wine industry accounts for 3.2 percent of the gross domestic product and 7.5 percent of its total exports, so that shows some real commitment. But most importantly, how are the wines?

In a word, excellent. In another word, affordable. Those two factors alone make it worth asking your local merchant for some Moldovans to try, and the sheer breadth of their offerings means you might encounter a fruity sparkler like Cricova Grand Vintage or a dry white Riesling de Rhein from Fautor that could easily fool you into thinking you're drinking some of Germany's finest.

An interesting experiment is to try a standard grape varietal like Cab Sauv or Chardonnay and compare it to a French counterpart to see which you prefer, especially for the money.

Another category where Moldovan wines stand out is with dessert wines. These late-harvest wines are often quite pricey from other European and American wineries, but the range of Moldovan options available for less than $20 means you can start experimenting with serving wine after the meal instead of just before and during. Plus, they sometimes have really cool bottles like the Stradivari pictured with this post.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Incredible Dave's is Gone, But You Can Now Build the Ultimate Man Cave

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 10:36 AM

Nemo is sad.
  • Nemo is sad.
I know, I know ... Incredible Dave's was open? Yes, the Dave and Buster's clone did actually exist near Rivergate for several years, but has given up the ghost leaving thousands of unredeemed skeeball tickets and unclaimed Chinese fingercuffs left behind.

But thanks to a liquidation auction by McClemore Auction Co., anybody can now purchase all the makings of a restaurant, arcade or badass man cave. In addition to items like pizza ovens, industrial ranges and real imitation leather sofas, there are 60 high-definition televisions for sale, many for less than a hundred bucks.

I'm thinking of buying a pay-to-play pool table just to make a little extra change off of my friends. Then I'll use that money to buy a bouncy house or some bumper cars.

The auction closes tomorrow, so if you want to furnish your own fun emporium, get to bidding!

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